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Dementia presents challenges in Crook County and other communities nationwide

Dementia – the most expensive disease in America

We've all heard the term. But what really is dementia and how can you spot it in a loved one or friend?

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, reasoning, and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities. The State Plan for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias in Oregon (SPADO) lists 10 signs or symptoms that dementia may be present.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.

4. Confusion with time or place.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

8. Decreased or poor judgment.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.

10. Changes in mood and personality.

An estimated four to five million Americans currently have dementia. In Oregon, about 76,000 people have Alzheimer's or a related dementia.

Dementia is the most expensive disease in America. A study funded by the National Institute on Aging estimated that in 2010, it cost up to $215 billion a year to care for dementia patients, surpassing heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion).

Seniors are most at risk of developing dementia. Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old. This trend will continue until 2029.

Today, 15.4 percent of Oregonians are 65 years or older. By 2030, that figure will increase to 20 percent. The 75-and-older age group will be growing even faster. According to Portland State University's Institute on Aging, Crook County has the smallest population (at 20,978) and the highest percentage of adults age 65 and over compared to Jefferson and Deschutes counties.

"We have a tsunami of older adults now and, because we really don't have specific geriatric care here in Central Oregon, it's important that they be as educated as possible about dementia," said Donna Mills, executive director with the Central Oregon Health Council.

Crook County also has fewer mental health providers per person (797:1) than Oregon overall (299:1), making diagnosis and care that much harder.

Mary Callison with the Central Oregon Health Council puts the growing dementia problem into perspective. "Every 33 seconds, somebody is diagnosed with dementia."

And, unfortunately, medical data shows that 50 percent of people will suffer from dementia at some point in the lives.

"Our families and friends are usually the first ones to notice that something is a little off," said Mills. "That's why we (COHC) are working so hard on the Older Adult Behavioral Initiative, it's all about bringing education to the people who need it."

As part of the initiative, COHC brought noted dementia educator and trainer Teepa Snow to Redmond on June 22 for two training sessions — one for caregivers and family members, the second for law enforcement and first responders.

Some seniors needing help with their "activities of daily living" are fortunate to live in assisted living facilities, like the Regency Village in Prineville. Lucky, because they either have long-term health insurance policies or sufficient family resources to pay out-of-pocket for care, which can run between $3,500 and $6,000 per month, depending on the level of care required.

Tana Osborn, RN and wellness director at Regency, estimates that about 25 percent of their 47 residents have a dementia diagnosis.

"Most of our residents with that diagnosis are quite high functioning and really only need a little assistance," Osborn said. "In assisted living, residents generally will be high functioning. We are there to assist them to be as independent as possible in their own apartments."

Unfortunately, not all Crook County families have the resources to place a loved one in assisted living.

"Caring for people with dementia can be very draining for caregivers. But there are support groups and safety nets for family caregivers that not a lot of people know about," Callison said.

So what information and resources are available to you if you suspect a loved one or friend might be showing symptoms of dementia? Fortunately there are many to review.

The Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon (ADRC) is a good place to start. A lot of information is located on its website, www.helpforalz.org, or you can call ADRC at 855-673-2372.

More information is available via the Alzheimer's Association, which maintains a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900), and a website: www.alz.org.

Providence Health and Services also has a very helpful website, http://oregon.providence.org/our-services/d/dementia/, which provides dementia information, books and pamphlets to read, and links to helpful videos.

Teepa Snow has many dementia training videos online, http://teepasnow.com/.

Consulting a physician should always be a first choice. But, given the ratio of mental health providers to patients cited above, you might want to educate yourself first while you wait for an appointment to see a professional.

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